Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 14, 2013

Palo Alto in no rush to create Cubberley 'master plan'

Council committee decides not to proceed with a needs assessment for community center just yet

by Gennady Sheyner

Even as Palo Alto officials negotiate a new lease for Cubberley Community Center, they are setting aside until a later date broader questions over what types of uses the sprawling and eclectic complex should accommodate.

The future of the 35-acre center on the southern edge of the city became a hot topic over the past two years, with the lease between the city and the school district heading for its final stretch. The city owns 8 acres of the complex and leases the other 27 acres from the school district under an agreement set to expire in December 2014. Last month, the City Council for the first time publicly declared its desire to renew the lease for Cubberley.

But the city is in no rush to start planning for Cubberley's future. On Tuesday night, June 11, the council's Policy and Services Committee voted 3-1, with Karen Holman dissenting, to defer until a future date a decision on whether to proceed with a "community needs assessment" for the site.

The needs assessment is one of 17 recommendations issued by the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, a group of citizens that in March submitted a detailed analysis of Cubberley issues. The group — which included neighborhood leaders, city commissioners, school volunteers, and other stakeholders — recommended that the city and the school district renew the Cubberley lease and that the center become a facility used by both entities. The group also urged the city to develop within the first five years of the new lease a community needs assessment.

"Deciding which buildings to build or remodel as well as deciding on renting and leasing priorities for a community center requires a very thorough community needs assessment to identify what services and opportunities are needed by the community, where such services exist now, and what services are best offered at Cubberley to meet community needs," the report states. "We need professional expertise to do this work well. Only by investing in such a systematic study with the school district as a willing partner can we be sure we are planning well for a facility that will serve Palo Alto for years to come."

But this systematic study will have to wait a while. City Manager James Keene urged the council not to proceed with the assessment at this time. He noted that the effort would potentially extend well beyond the Cubberley site, and staff's efforts are focused on lease negotiations with the school district. He also said that proceeding with the master plan at this time would be premature because the city doesn't yet know how the negotiations would be resolved.

"I don't see how the staff can support a concurrent needs assessment, particularly on a project that's really not defined at all," Keene said.

His argument won over three of the four members of the Policy and Services Committee. Councilwoman Gail Price proposed deferring the conversation.

"Staff is already doing several activities that can provide background for this discussion and foundation for future work," she said.

These activities include an update to the city's Comprehensive Plan (its land-use bible) and a new parks master plan. The city is also about to launch a process for creating a community vision for 27 University Ave., a site next to the downtown Caltrain station.

Price also said that until the city and the school district come up with a new agreement, the council is "working without a context."

Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who chairs the committee, concurred.

Even though the council anticipates a lease extension, she said, "No one has signed on the dotted line yet to say that's going to happen."

Councilman Larry Klein joined Kniss and Price in voting to defer the discussion. Holman, who dissented, said she would like to see the planning work begin sooner and suggested that the Parks and Recreation Commission can help get the ball rolling.

It's important that the council understand what the community wants as it proceeds with other major projects, including the planned construction of three new athletic fields at the renovated Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course, she said.

"It's a practical exercise and a dreaming exercise, but it helps refine what's important," Holman said.

Jennifer Hetterly, vice chair of the Parks and Recreation Commissions and member of the Cubberley advisory group, urged the council not to wait too long before making a decision. While there's no need to actually begin the assessment at this time, the city should make a decision soon on whether to go forward with it at all, she said. Funding for the planning effort could become a factor in the negotiations between the city and the school district.

She noted that the city is currently working on several other strategic documents, including a parks master plan and a community vision for the area around 27 University Ave. A broad community needs assessment, she said, would lead to more thoughtful planning project for both Cubberley and 27 University.

"Reinventing the wheel on a site-by-site basis seems very inefficient," Hetterly said.

Committee members also had different ideas about what this future needs analysis might entail. Klein recommended asking the community to include in suggestions for new amenities some ways to pay for these amenities, including public-private partnerships.

"It's easy to give your opinion when there's no money involved," Klein said.

Requesting funding suggestions, Klein said, would "focus the mind" and promote a "bottom-up approach" to planning for improvements at Cubberley and elsewhere.

"It really puts people to the test: Are you willing to do something other than just say, 'I think something is a good idea'?"

Holman disagreed, and said the council should welcome all suggestions, whether or not they are coupled with funding recommendations.

"People proposing something — let's say a bocce ball court — may not know how to fund it, but if it's put on the table, there may be others who see this list and know how to fund it," Holman said.

The council should welcome the public's suggestions on how to fund new facilities, Holman said, but not require them.

"I'd hate to edit people's thoughtful suggestion," Holman said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 12, 2013 at 8:08 am

> The council should welcome the public's suggestions
> on how to fund new facilities,

The City should put every facility/recreation asset on "true cost" accounting, and then charge the users of these facilities/assets accordingly. It's difficult to believe that the Cubberley Center is only being used by Palo Alto residents. Accordingly, it doesn't make sense to tell Palo Alto property owners they have a moral obligation to pay for facilities used primarily by non-residents while these non-resident users are not paying the total cost of operating these facilities.

If the City were to add in a "facilities" surcharge in its rental/lease fees, and that surcharge were deposited in Reserve Funds for future maintenance/refurbishment, then having these huge "infrastructure" charges pop up every 30-40 years would not be as likely to happen. The City could start by putting the Cubberley Center on a P&L accounting (Profit and Loss), so that the public could easily see where the costs are, and what the revenues are.

The underlying belief that Palo Alto is a "rich city" and therefore, it has an obligation to spend tends of millions of dollars a year for recreational facilities for people from other cities needs a serious rethinking. City-provided services should be offered at "true cost" to the users. Palo Alto property owners should not have to subsidize these activities through property taxes.


Posted by neigher, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2013 at 10:07 am

The key is that City needs to stop believing multi- use could be an option.


Posted by 35 year resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2013 at 10:25 am

Wayne....I couldn't agree with you more. Very well stated.


Posted by dave , a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm

A breathe of sanity by Mr. Martin. Collect information before rushing ahead into a program.

And to consider asking non-residents to pay for use of taxpayer supported amenities is such a radical idea I'm sure the City Council will never consider it. After all it's not their money - well a little bit is I suppose.


Posted by gradiate, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I agree with you all; city council, please don't needlessly throw away millions of dollars into an ostentatious development project. Keep it a high school and leave it as it is with its current design. There is a vocal contingent of older Palo Alto residents and Cubberley graduates who want Cubberley, and its history preserved. What one group calls "progress", another group calls doing away with everything in their home town that makes their town home.


Posted by Jan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 12, 2013 at 3:17 pm

This city council should stick to childish topics, like what color flag to fly over city hall. This council is so utterly inept, it's best that they just talk and discuss topics, but not implement any projects. Hopefully the next city council will be in tune with the desires of the town citizens, and also be a sensible bunch.


Posted by Ladadog, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 12, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Which is cheaper? Taking back Cubberley, rehabbing it and turning it back into a high school that will very soon be needed--but losing all that rent? Or, keeping Cubberley rented out and building a new high school from the ground up?

That, I think, is the bottom line.


Posted by bill , a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 12, 2013 at 5:29 pm

The rent the City receives does not come close to covering the cost of operating the Cubberley Center. Also the City pays the PAUSD $7 million a year; so keeping the Center for the small rent income is not a good argument to keep it until the school district wants it.


Posted by PA Neighbor, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 12, 2013 at 6:50 pm

The School District may not need the Cubberley site until 2028 or later which is the year the PAUSD says they will outgrow the two existing High Schools with enrollment increasing at 1.3/4% per yr. However, by 2028 physical buildings for a high school may not be needed since high school maybe "on line" by then.

Ladadog: Did you read that kindergarten enrollment has declined this year. We may be entering another 22 year cycle of declining enrollment.

The problem is Cubberley is becoming ever more "run down" and may not last in it's present form until 2028. The School District and the City are on two different time lines.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 12, 2013 at 7:09 pm

PA Neighbor

Kindergarten enrollment declining is due to the fact that the cut off date meant that only 11 months of birthdays were included in this year's enrollment. The cut off date is being brought forward each year from 1st December to 1st September, one month each year.

The enrollment for high schools is still below 2,000 students, but the high schools are being geared up for 2,400 students. That does not mean that our high schools should reach the 2,400 levels. The bigger the high school, the easier it is for a student to feel invisible and the harder it is for an individual student to get on the football team or become class president. Some of us feel very strongly that mega sized high schools are not the best for Palo Alto.


Posted by Julia, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Surveying what people "want" tests what people want at that moment. Chances are that the next month, or with the next event, or news item, they will "want" something else. But we keep spending money to survey - then there's a gap of time when priorities change as other priorities are highlighted.


Posted by PA Neighbor, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 16, 2013 at 12:42 pm

2,400 is not a mega high school. In large metropolitan areas they have High Schools of over 5,000 - that is a mega High School.

I hope Resident will be willing to have his/her children transferred out of Paly or Gunn to attend any proposed High School at Cubberley. In 1978 Cubberley was closed because many students had already left Cubberley and gone to Gunn and Paly.

Cubberley was closed because it died - nobody wanted to attend an inferior school in the furthest South-East corner of Palo Alto. The School Administration are well aware of it's past history.


Posted by jh, a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 27, 2013 at 10:41 am

@ Jan; If you feel the council is inept, then vote those inept fools out of office.


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